The Gin Gimlet was an unlikely hero of our socially distanced year. With their venues shuttered, bartenders were forced to get creative in order to ply their trade to a homebound audience. In a rush to create cocktails that could withstand bottling and postage, many turned to shelf-stable cordials in place of more temperamental citrus juices. After decades as a classic cocktail deep cut, the Gimlet was back on the menu. The original calls only for London Dry, Rose’s Lime Cordial, and a little ice to chill it down – but like many old favourites it affords ample room for experimentation.
Scottish merchant Lauchlan Rose devised his namesake cordial in 1867 as a long-lived alternative to fresh citrus juice. His invention proved essential to vitamin c deficient sailors and effectively solved the centuries-old problem of scurvy on the high-seas. In typically British fashion it wasn’t long before they decided the medicine went down better with a little gin or rum added and a cocktail was born.
The serve was used to market Rose’s Lime Cordial throughout the 20th century, though the suggested proportions used back then would make for a pretty sweet drink by today’s standards. One well-known recipe comes from Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye in the conniving Terry Lennox champions a Gimlet made with equal parts cordial and gin – the absolute wrong’un. For a modern palate it’s better to scale back the sweet stuff and treat this a bit like a Martini with some zip and acidity.
50ml London Dry Gin
20ml Rose’s Lime Cordial
Stir the gin and cordial with plenty of ice until they’re well combined and extremely cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge. If you plan on taking your time with your drink this will also work served over ice in a small tumbler. You might be tempted to use fresh lime juice and sugar in place of the krypton green syrup but it really does bring a certain something to the drink. It’s got a unique tartness and some slightly tropical secondary flavours that are quite charming.
Making it from scratch
A cordial is essentially just an acidulated syrup made from fresh fruit, so they’re not difficult to whip up at home. This recipe takes advantage of all the nice forced rhubarb that’s around at the moment but you can follow the basic method to make cordial out of whatever fruit you fancy.
Roughly chop about 800g of rhubarb and throw it in a saucepan with 800ml of water, 400g of sugar, and the juice and zest of an orange. Bring the lot to a low simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and leave until the rhubarb has broken down – it should take about 15 minutes, but use your judgement. Let the mixture come to room temperature and then pour into a fine sieve over a mixing bowl. If you’re in a hurry you can stir it through but if you leave it in the fridge overnight you’ll wind up with a clearer product.
Once you’ve got your rhubarb syrup you need to lower the PH. Stir in 1 teaspoon of citric acid powder until it’s totally incorporated and taste. The mixture should be pleasantly tart but not absolutely eye watering - if you think it can stand to be a little sharper then add another teaspoon and taste again. Food grade citric acid is available from chemists and easily orderable online. A batch of this filled into a sterilized bottle should last all summer in the fridge and is also great with fizzy water.
50ml London Dry Gin
2 Dashes orange bitters
Stir all your ingredients over ice until frosty. Strain into a frozen cocktail glass and serve with an orange twist. It’ll look bright pink and lovely – your mates will all be really impressed.
If you want something with a little less preparation time there are a number of good bottled gimlets that are well worth your time. The Palo Santo Gimlet from Tayēr + Elementary (£33 – Shop Cuvee) on Old Street is a real knockout. The park-friendly 300ml serving contains Hepple gin, a little Sherry and Lillet, and a cordial made from aromatic palo santo wood. If you can’t quit bring to mind what the South American Palo Santo tree tastes like it’s got a bit of coconut and vanilla to it – very nice indeed.
Oxley gin recently collaborated with sustainability focused cocktail bar Nine Lives to create a very grownup Rocket Gimlet (£28 – Heads Hearts Tails). Their house cordial contains rocket leaves, radish greens, pear, lemon, and a little Szechuan peppercorn. Nicely herbaceous and ever so slightly salty. The limited-edition bottling is part of Oxley’s Last Orders campaign, an effort to supply some of London’s best bars with gin so they can keep slinging cocktails during lockdown. A good cause if ever there was one. Other highlights of this series of collaborations included an Elderflower Gimlet (from £15 – Direct) by the good people at Swift which has aquavit and St Germain liqueur in it. Because that’s just the sort of thing they get up to over there.